In a New York Times piece last week, writer Thomas Ricks calls for re-instituting the military draft in the United States.
He quotes Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former commander of our forces in Afghanistan, in support of his belief: “I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.”
Ricks calls not only for the shared sacrifice a draft would entail, but also the shared benefits that draftees would presumably enjoy. Many vital social services could be performed by the military (he mentions day care and elderly care), and this way, the government could actually save money. But the biggest advantage, he contends, would be that leaders would think twice before going to war.
Still, Ricks isn’t considering the good the all-volunteer U.S. military does now, nor the harm the draft could do if re-instituted.
The details he offers sound good.
“Some could choose 18 months of military service with low pay but excellent post-service benefits, including free college tuition,” he wrote. “Those who don’t want to serve in the army could perform civilian national service for a slightly longer period and equally low pay — teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly. After two years, they would receive similar benefits like tuition aid.”
Bear in mind, about four million people turn 18 every year. That’s a lot of conscripts, and a lot of “post-service benefits.”
Moreover, “A draft is unlikely to save us money, but it will certainly abridge young people’s freedom. It is unfair to older adults, too, who would see their taxes rise. To add insult to injury, many older adults would see their tax dollars go to pay low-wage workers who would then be competing with them for jobs… (such as) day care providers, nurses, and construction workers.”
As it is constituted now, the U.S. military provides an unparalleled route out of poverty for young people. Countless have used its structure, its life-lessons, the GI Bill and other benefits to better themselves and provide a future for their families.
Watering down those benefits, and the unique path to success it offers, would be a disservice to our young.
There’s one more disturbing facet of Ricks’ proposal. He anticipates the criticism from “Libertarians,” or anyone else who doesn’t approve of conscription.
Those who object “would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.”
That’s too dismissive. Even Libertarians pay taxes — that’s part of the social contract. No one says there should be no government, no safety net, and no national defense. The levels of each are a legitimate question.
Ricks means well. Everyone should have “skin in the game,” just as everyone has a vital interest in national security. But there’s no problem filling our military’s rolls now. Why “fix” what’s not broken, with a system that America has already tried and rejected?